What I’ve Learned about Argentina’s New Civil Code and High-Stakes, High-Profile Translation Jobs

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I think many would agree that high-profile projects are always as challenging as they are fascinating. Every translation is a learning experience, but when we get to learn in high stakes settings, our entire translation process is challenged. As a lawyer-linguist, I have had my share of opportunities to work on high profile projects of different kinds. But it wasn’t until recently, that everything I thought I knew about high profile jobs came into question, and the game-changing variable was working with people who are literally changing history.

I live in Argentina, a continental law country that after 143 years decided to change its entire Civil Code. As of January 2015, every single civil and commercial provision in the book will be new. Despite the incumbent’s efforts to take credit for this massive piece of legislation, the truth is it took over 20 years to draft the new Code and the project involved hundreds of legal professionals from all over the country. It was probably the most massive and ambitious project of modern Argentine legal history. Scholars and drafters of the new Code are rushing to get their reviews and interpretations published, and many are doing so in English. World-class publishing houses are investing in Argentine legal scholars, and great local thinkers are on the verge of international recognition.

Legal professionals are rushing to write, and lawyer-linguists are working along with them, side by side. That’s where I come in. I was hired to translate some of those upcoming books and publications, and though I thought this experience would be like every other, I could not have been more wrong. As it turns out, when the stakes are that high, game rules change:

1) Unusually high rates, even for this market niche: Legal linguistics is a high-paying niche, but when authors see the potential to “make history,” they get far more generous with rates.

2) Deadlines do not trump quality: In my personal opinion, deadlines NEVER trump quality (seriously, NEVER!), but we’ve all had that client (who we secretly want to punch in the face) telling us they don’t care about quality as much as deadlines. That does not happen in high stakes jobs. They want it fast, but they also want it perfect.

3) Authors want to be involved: They want to discuss terminology and other nuances. They’re name is on the line, so they are far more willing to work with you in interpreting their ideas and finding the best way to convey them.

4) They appreciate their linguist: When working closely with you to get the job done and done right, they learn to appreciate what you do, far more than ordinary clients with whom distance is the norm.

High stakes, high-profile jobs are challenging and stressful. They force you to leave your comfort zone and interact far more closely with the author. They create a special bond between you and your client, where he or she realizes that you care just as much as they do about conveying their words properly. It is a game-changing experience and though exhausting, it’s worth the ride!

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